Civis Analytics & The Practical Innovator: A look back at how we’ve strategically grown

November 10, 2015 Chris George

Last month, I had the privilege of attending The Practical Innovator, a day-long executive education program hosted at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I was generously invited by virtue of our company’s selection as a Top 100 Finalist for the 2015 Chicago Innovation Awards, for which Civis Analytics had advanced out of more than 500 nominees. The Practical Innovator featured senior Kellogg faculty members speaking on a variety of topics, ranging from “Innovation Best Practices” to “Strategy and the Practical Innovator” and “Creating Winning Customer Value Propositions”.

Every presentation I attended was fascinating, and content was geared towards companies of all sizes; from maintaining a culture of innovation at larger companies or corporations, to defining your value proposition, business plan, and acquiring funding as a startup, and finally how to grow successfully from a small company to large one.

The last topic particularly resonated with me — as a member of Civis Analytics from its inception, I have seen us transition in just over two years from a consultancy of about 15 people to a product and services company with 100 employees — and still growing. The speaker during this topic, Kellogg professor Mohan Sawnhey, highlighted five successful strategies for transitioning from small to large, which I’ve seen Civis Analytics adopt in its own specific ways over the past two years:

1. Moving from opportunistic to strategic

In our earliest days as a smaller consulting services-based company, we were eager to solve any challenges or opportunities that came our way (and fit our social mission). We learned what problems were inherent and common for companies looking to implement data-driven solutions, as we continually built a base of knowledge across verticals such as higher education, media, telecommunications, healthcare, non-profits, and consumer packaged goods. However, to avoid spreading ourselves too thin as we grew in size, it was critical for us to identify the verticals and applications in which our value proposition of data-driven solutions made easier (through both our product and services) is strongest, and which products and features we would focus on developing in our platform before coming to market — which brings me to the next topic…

2. Moving from projects to products

Our earliest consulting work helped provide us with an increased understanding of market opportunities across different verticals, while giving us more in-depth area expertise to supplement our individual-level, data-driven approach to problem solving. However, in order to truly scale our services, we have to identify patterns in the delivery of our solutions, and productize them for future iteration. This has resulted not only in the creation of our main product, the Civis data science platform, but also individual applications such as the recently launched Civis Media Optimizer. Moving forward, we will continue to innovate and develop additional applications on the platform to solve specific problems, similar to how Civis Media Optimizer solves for TV optimization.

3. Moving from ownership to partnership

Building partnerships has been a critical component in fueling Civis’ growth to date — whether it be a capability partnership like our OEM agreement with Tableau for best-in-class business reporting within our platform, or a market partnership like we have as an Advanced Analytics Partner of Amazon Web Services, whose tools we use to power our data science platform. Moving away from owning every business challenge and moving towards strategic partnerships with peers who specialize in key areas allows us to focus our resources on what we do best while still growing our business overall. Similarly, we’ve also been teaching our services clients how to use our platform more and more, as they transition from consulting clients to product users.

4. Moving from people to process

When I joined Civis Analytics in early 2013, we had a handful of extremely talented employees who were the core of our consulting practice — but we needed to surround ourselves with equally and more talented people in order to take our business to many levels beyond where we were. In order to ensure that we adhered to a high standard of employee talent, we developed a process of testing candidates with internally-developed exams designed to assess job-specific skills. These exams have helped us add new employees with a vast array of backgrounds and skills. It’s a wonderful thing to be surrounded by extremely smart people, all with differing skillsets and points of view to bring to the table. Establishing this process requires patience, but is paying off in the long run.

5. Moving from relationships to brands

In the earliest days of Civis Analytics, our reputation was built mostly from the successes of the 2012 presidential campaign. However, in order to reach new customer bases and verticals, we’ve had to build a strong brand and reputation outside of the political sphere, and build up a base of institutional knowledge and abilities that remains with the company as it grows. There’s no better example than our [recent launch]({% post_url 2015-10-07-our-open-letter-to-madison-ave-in-NYT %}) of Civis Media Optimizer for the type of brand awareness and recognition we’re trying to build.

As we continue to grow and evolve as a company, it will be important to maintain and complete these transitions in each of the five areas. Additionally, as we become larger in size as well as product and services scope, it will be especially important to maintain a culture of innovation across our departments — to this end we’ve placed a large emphasis on cross-functional communication for developmental priorities, and have established team members who are tasked with incorporating feedback across the different departments and teams here.

It’s been quite an exciting two-plus years here at Civis Analytics, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future brings, and how our strategies evolve and develop even further.

The post Civis Analytics & The Practical Innovator: A look back at how we’ve strategically grown appeared first on Civis Analytics.

Previous Article
Lightning Talks at Civis Analytics
Lightning Talks at Civis Analytics

One thing I love about working at Civis Analytics is that we have a fantastic learning culture. We share ou...

Next Article
On the (Technical) Google Hangout
On the (Technical) Google Hangout

A year ago, we blogged about Interview Tips, providing a high-level FAQ about interviewing at Civis Analyti...